Chicago Tribune: Muslim Sues Bottling Company Over Prayer Time

A former delivery driver has filed a federal lawsuit against a soda bottling plant in Harvey that allegedly fired him shortly after he asked to time his lunch break to attend weekly Islamic prayers at a mosque. 

According to the suit, Nathan Henderson, a Muslim, had worked for the American Bottling Company for only a month in early September 2007 when his boss pulled him aside to discuss reports that Henderson was taking time to say his five daily prayers during the workday.

Because those breaks only lasted a minute or two and didn’t interfere with Henderson’s work, his boss added that he didn’t have a problem with it, the suit said.

The suit alleges that when Henderson then asked permission to take his lunch break in time to correspond with Jumma prayers, the Friday-only weekly congregational prayer in the Muslim faith, his superior told him he could not do that.

Henderson proposed working on Saturdays to make up the hours, but the boss said Saturdays were reserved for employees with “the most seniority,” the suit said.

According to the suit, the supervisor also reprimanded the driver for not mentioning his faith during the job interview, adding that he wouldn’t have been hired.

A few days later, on Sept. 11, 2007, Henderson was fired for not “meeting the job requirements,” the suit said.

Henderson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2007.

The commission gave Henderson the green light to sue after an investigation found that the “evidence established reasonable cause to believe that [the company] discriminated against [Henderson] because of his religion.”

“Employers are legally obligated to make reasonable religious accommodations for their employees as long as it does not interfere with work performance, and Mr. Henderson’s reasonable requests would have in no way placed an undue hardship on the company,” said Henderson’s attorney, Kevin Vodak, litigation director for Chicago’s chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Chris Barnes, a spokesman for Dr. Pepper Snapple, the parent company of American Bottling Company, said: “We evaluate all requests for religious accommodation within the framework of our broader EEO policy.”

“We are strongly committed to providing a work environment for all of our employees that is free from discrimination,” Barnes said. “We have a clear equal employment opportunity policy and take no actions based on an employee’s religion or creed.”

Henderson now works as a truck driver for another company.

Vodak would not say whether that company has accommodated Henderson’s prayer schedule.